WASHINGTON — With the possibility of a statement from one of his accusers looming over his troubled presidential effort, GOP hopeful Herman Cain will spend the day trying to steer his campaign back to business as usual as he deals with sexual harassment allegations dating from the 1990s.
After a day in New York largely shielded from media attention, Cain will step back into public view in Washington for a speech Friday to Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group aligned with the tea party movement.
The event was scheduled well before damaging sexual harassment accusations from Cain's time as head of the National Restaurant Association emerged earlier this week. The address is the latest in a series of regular campaign appearances Cain has held even as he's offered ever-changing explanations about the charges leveled against him.
"As of today," Cain said hopefully on Thursday, "we're back on message and we're going to stay on message, and we've answered all of these questions."
Cain's political allies are trying to take the offensive. Late Thursday, a group called Americans for Cain released a Web video that, without offering proof, blamed liberals for the furor surrounding Cain and called the process "a high-tech lynching." The one-minute video maintains that liberals and the mainstream media can't challenge Cain on the merits of his policies, so they've attacked him with the sexual harassment reports, just as Clarence Thomas came under similar scrutiny during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
But Cain's Washington appearance will put him in the spotlight as the restaurant trade association is set to decide whether to allow one woman who accused Cain of sexual harassment to publicly address the allegations, despite an agreement that prevented her from talking.
Joel Bennett, an attorney for one of the women alleging sexual harassment, said Thursday he was seeking permission from the National Restaurant Association to release a statement on her behalf. Under an agreement stemming from her accusation in 1999, the woman agreed not to speak publicly about the episode she said occurred when she worked for the trade group and Cain was its president.
The association said it would make a decision Friday about whether to grant permission.
"This will not deter me" in the race for the White House, Cain declared Thursday, repeatedly denying the allegations in interviews on conservative media outlets.
As additional women have claimed harassment by Cain over the course of the past week, his campaign has argued that he's benefiting from the controversy. Cain has hired at least one more national finance staffer since Sunday, when the allegations first surfaced. His national finance team planned a meeting Friday morning in Washington to discuss strategy as it looks to broaden a grassroots fundraising base that's so far been driven by small online donations — including more than $1.2 million in contributions since Sunday.
But since it was reported late Sunday that at least two women had complained about Cain when they worked at the National Restaurant Association — and had received financial settlements — Cain has struggled to explain himself.
He has said consistently he never sexually harassed anyone. But his answers to other pertinent questions have changed. In one instance, he first denied knowing of any settlements with former employees, then said he recalled one, explaining he had been aware of an "agreement" but not a "settlement."
The furor erupted at a time when Cain had vaulted to the top of public opinion polls as a leading conservative challenger to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination — adding spice to a race already as unpredictable as any in recent memory. Romney was also set to speak at the Americans for Prosperity event in Washington on Friday.
There were also questions about whether Cain's wife, Gloria, would appear on Fox News Channel, as was reported earlier this week.
Cain's campaign started out blaming the liberal media. But since Wednesday it has blamed a political consultant on Cain's failed 2004 Senate campaign who now is helping Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a political rival. Cain backed off after the consultant denied leaking the information.
The firestorm started when the website Politico, citing anonymous sources and not naming any of the alleged victims, reported that one of the women was livid over a sexual overture Cain made toward her when he invited her to his room during a trade association event in the 1990s.
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